View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Catholic Radical

I discovered the Catholic Worker movement many years ago. I even briefly served as a live-in staff member at one house.

One of the people in the movement who always impressed me was Peter Maurin.

Although Maurin co-founded the movement with Dorothy Day – and in many ways created its vision – he often seems to be overlooked when the movement is discussed. Of course, Day was such a powerful personality and such a prolific writer that it is easy to understand why.

But without Maurin, there probably never would have been a Catholic Worker movement.

Maurin was born in a French peasant family in May of 1877. He joined the Christian Brothers, then left to pursue a lay apostolate. He emigrated to Canada, and then to the United States, where he met Day in 1932.

Maurin taught Day about her faith and shared his insights into history. His preached a program for the modern world that included houses of hospitality to help the poor and unemployed. Such houses are keystones of the Worker movement to this day.

It was he who suggested she publish a newspaper. The paper she started is still published some 73 years later. Many of the Worker houses also publish their own newspapers and newsletters.

His belief in education through dialogue led to the round table discussions that many Worker houses continue to hold.

One of he ways to educate people about his brand of Catholic radicalism was his Easy Essays. These “phrased essays” were essentially free-verse poems that explained his social and religious ideas.

Some of these essay are dated, but many remain true today. His basic message was, as he said in one essay, that it was time to “blow the dynamite of the Church” … “so the Catholic Church / may again become / the dominant social dynamic force.”

Here’s a version of one of his Easy Essays:

Church And State

Modern Society
believes in the separation
of Church and State.

But the Jews
did not believe in it.

The Greeks
did not believe in it.

The Romans
did not believe in it.

The Medievalists
did not believe in it.

The Puritans
did not believe in it.

Modern society
has separated Church and State
but it did not separate the State
from business.

Modern society
does not believe
in a Church's State;
it believes
in a Business Men's State.

Catholic Worker papers continue to publish his Easy Essays.

Maurin died in 1949. People often promote Day for sainthood – something I think she would actually oppose. I think he should be considered as well – though I suspect, like Day, he would dismiss any such attempts.

You can find more of his essays at


Blogger Steve Bogner said...

Maurin's essay there is pretty insightful. I wasn't aware of his part in the Catholic worker movement.

6:45 AM  

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